Effects of Environmental Noise on Physical Health
The immediate effects of noise on sleep
Each time there is a noise while you sleep, especially noises caused by some form of transportation, your body reacts. Your heart beats faster, and other bodily functions are also affected. For example, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises. The body never gets accustomed to night noises, even after many years. These reactions are therefore repeated night after night. However, the feeling of having slept badly can diminish with time.
Noise can affect your sleep in many ways:
- It takes you longer to fall asleep
- You move around more in your sleep
- You have a less restorative sleep
- You wake up more often and for longer
- You wake up earlier
The next-day effects of noise
If your sleep is affected by noise, you may feel the effects the next day. For example, you could:
- Feel you slept badly
- Feel sleepy
- Feel more tired
- Feel the need to rest to make up for the lack of sleep or to fight fatigue
- Feel less motivated
- Feel less focused
- Be less productive
- Feel depressed
Noise is a source of stress. It triggers reactions in the body, including the secretion of certain hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These reactions account for the development of heart and cardiovascular diseases after many years of exposure to noise.
There is now enough scientific evidence demonstrating two effects of noise:
- A greater risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) in adults chronically exposed to road vehicles and aircraft noise
- A greater risk of heart attack in adults chronically exposed to noise from road vehicles
In humans, hearing is the ability to perceive sounds through the auditory system. The auditory system functions 24 hours a day. Unlike eyes, which are protected by eyelids, ears have no protection. Therefore, ears are always alert and never rest.
There is an established link between exposure to noisy activities and the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss is considered a handicap from the moment a person has difficulty communicating in common situations, such has having a hard time understanding when there is noise around him or her. Such a difficulty has significant consequences on the quality of the person’s daily life.
Activities such as listening to music at a high volume for long periods and going to places where music is amplified can lead to hearing loss. About 5 to 10% of young people listening to music with portable audio players are at risk of hearing damage because of their listening habits (for over an hour every day at a high volume of 90 dBA or more). Listening to music at high levels can cause permanent hearing loss after five years of such exposure.
Temporary hearing loss and auditory fatigue
The effects of temporary hearing loss are similar to the effects of permanent hearing loss, the difference being that the former is reversible. To recover from temporary hearing loss, you must stay in a quiet environment for a sufficient period of time, which can vary from a few hours to a day.
Tinnitus is hissing, ringing or buzzing in a person ears or head. A person hears these sounds without them being produced by an external source. Tinnitus can be the result of exposure to high noise levels, such as loud music. Loud or sudden noise, such as an explosion or gunfire, can also cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is a hearing problem that often accompanies hearing loss. It can be temporary or permanent.
Debilitating tinnitus causes constant disruption of a person’s emotional, cognitive, psychological or physical state. Exposure to environmental noise, mainly noise produced by leisure activities, accounts for about 3% of debilitating tinnitus.
For further information
If you have questions regarding hearing problems (permanent or temporary hearing loss and tinnitus) which you think are due to exposure to noise, call Info-Santé 811.
Last update: July 26, 2016